Zimmer embraces strategic battles vs. Turner

Mike Zimmer’s defensive mind has been challenged by Norv Turner offenses in the past, and those will resume in padded practices to benefit offensive and defensive players alike.

With the pads on and the hitting (friendly-fire style) beginning, the biggest matchup at training camp in the coming days may involve men who aren’t wearing pads – head coach Mike Zimmer and his defensive staff lining up against Norv Turner’s offense.

Zimmer has made it clear that Turner is going to be given the latitude to run the offense during the season and, just as Zimmer landed the Vikings head coaching job because of the success of his defensive philosophy, he is looking to get his players sharp by going up against the intuitive offensive mind of Turner and the schemes that he will throw at a defense.

“Norv is a very experienced coach,” Zimmer said. “He’s won Super Bowls. He’s been a head coach three times. He’s seen a lot of different things through the course of the years. He’s an outstanding offensive football coach and is demanding on the players.”

Zimmer is no stranger to Turner’s offensive game planning, having coached against him several times. Both of them were in the AFC North last year – Zimmer as defensive coordinator in Cincinnati and Turner as offensive coordinator in Cleveland.

The hope is that the work that will be done in training camp and practices over the next month will help sharpen both sides of the ball – as two chess masters who are among the elite at their craft on their respective sides of the ball square off. One thing Zimmer made clear is that he has a lot of respect for what Turner and his offenses have been able to accomplish over the years, a testament to the success of his offensive schemes.

“He’s got a very innovative mind,” Zimmer said. “He’s always been good with matchups and trying to get guys in the right place. I love the way Norv calls a game, having coached against him so many times. He’s aggressive, but he’s smart about it. He’s going to take his shots. If it’s not there, he’ll get the ball to the other spots. (He has) always had a team that, playing against him, has been very, very solid in fundamentals, technique and the combination of the confusion of the motions, shifts and play action. When you have a running back like Adrian, play action becomes very valuable.”

With the pads on and the hitting beginning, the Vikings players are started to ease into the grind that will take place over the next five months-plus. But these early camp days also serve as a chance for Zimmer and Turner to test one another’s units to see where improvement is needed and giving both of them a severe test. The first of that will be getting Turner’s receivers and Zimmer’s defensive backs matching up and showing what they can do.

“We finally get to play some bump and run today,” Zimmer said. “(That’s) good for us because we need a lot of work at it. We need to work on offense getting off the press and, with the DBs, getting techniques and doing that. Those are two big things and I’m probably looking more forward to than the contact stuff.”

What fans may be looking for is how Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards match up against Turner’s offense. Their internal battles will not only test the players, but show each other where each of their units will have to improve if the Vikings are to compete for a playoff spot this season.


  • Zimmer declined to confirm whether or not Cordarrelle Patterson, who has missed the first two days of practice, would be ready for the night practice Monday. He said the team will evaluate him after today’s practice to see if he is ready to suit up and take the field, but he remains on a day-to-day basis.

  • During his press conference a gust of wind moved the tent in which Zimmer was conducting the media interview, causing him to ask one of the public relations staff if everything was fine, adding, “I don’t want this to be like Dallas.” In May 2009, the Dallas Cowboys had their practice facility collapse that left a Cowboys scouting assistant paralyzed.

  • Zimmer emphasized that the Vikings have a good idea how many players are going to make the final roster at each position, but those numbers aren’t etched in stone. Depending on how things shake out during training camp and the preseason and what players make an impression, there may be more players kept at some positions and fewer at others to find the best combination of players.

  • The Vikings coaches have made it clear that there will be competition for roster spots, but Zimmer said players (and fans) shouldn’t start playing the numbers game at different positions, because the roster will remain fluid even after cuts begin. He said the team will be scouring the waiver wire, potential trade possibilities and even the CFL for players they feel could be an upgrade from what the Vikings will have on the back half of the roster.

  • One of the aspects of getting to know his new players is to find out what kind of “football smarts” those players have. Zimmer quoted former head coaching great Bill Parcells, who had a sign at his practice facility in Dallas that read, “Dumb players do dumb things. Smart players very rarely do dumb things” and said one of the qualities he is looking for in players is the ability to think on their feet and make intelligent reactions.

  • Zimmer said that, on Tuesday’s off day, he and the coaching staff won’t make drastic changes to the depth chart, but will make a point to discuss position by position and alter the number of first- or second-team reps those players will receive, giving those who have played well early on more of an opportunity to prove themselves.

    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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